Once upon a time I was glowing with fecundity, partway through my first pregnancy, and just enamored with the idea of sitting down and writing out my birth plan. Mine was a low-risk pregnancy, so I was all set to labor and deliver at the birth center attached to my local hospital.
I knew what I didn’t want: pain meds, episiotomies, fetal monitoring, or other interventions were on the no thank you list. I wanted a water birth, for sure, and to have the option to watch my baby enter the world with a thoughtfully placed mirror. I wanted to be walking or on all fours or sitting on a birthing stool. Oh, and I wanted to eat. Definitely to eat. Everything I read said that first births could take ages and I didn’t want to be starving on top of it all.
We scheduled a private, customized birth class that would empower us to get all that and more. It never happened.
Here’s what I got… a week of oops-didn’t-realize-that-was-labor a month and a half before my due date and an immediate admittance to the labor & delivery ward because, whoa, those were contractions and hey, I’m dilated and effaced. The knowledge that I fall into the 1% of people for whom the fetal fibronectin test is inaccurate. Contractions that only stopped with an active turbutaline drip. And constant fetal monitoring, even during sleep, which came only thanks to drugs. Steroids to help my baby’s lungs develop ASAP. And then once they finally told me “You’re going to have a baby today,” a few hours of hanging out and 20 minutes of the worst, most panicked pain of my life experienced flat on my back because turns out that I, unlike almost all mamas ever, prefer to birth that way.
I also got this:
I’m okay with that. I know now from speaking with a lot of mamas who had really rough birth experiences that the unexpected and the unwanted aspects of pregnancy and labor and delivery can stick with you for a long time. Deviation from a birth plan can take many forms, some more traumatic than others. But sometimes even just being really super invested in a plan that doesn’t pan out can be traumatic in and of itself.
The thing is that for a first timer, a birth plan is like a wish list versus a list of must-haves because you don’t actually know what you want and you may be surprised by what you need. I’m not saying don’t write up a birth plan to share with your midwives or OB and your partner but think of it as an intellectual exercise instead of a iron-clad contract between you and your baby and your birthing team.
Have birth hopes. Birth preferences. Birth wishes, even. And then remember that things change. Can change in an instant. They don’t tell you this in cheerful prenatal appointments but you can go into labor at 24 weeks and actually come out on the other side with a baby. A c-section may be the last thing you want but still the thing that saves your life. You may, like me the second time around, find yourself appalled at the very idea of water touching your skin while you’re riding the wave of contractions and so there goes your water birth. You may, again like me, find you prefer birthing flat on your back like a sitcom mom instead of on that comfy-looking birthing ball.
That’s why I say when it comes time to push or prep for surgery or whatever, just have your baby. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ask for what you want – always advocate for yourself. Always. But be flexible, too. You may just have a better birth experience for it.